Let’s Go To Akron!

12 Oct

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We are hitting the road for the next few days, taking advantage of what’s left of warm days and later sunsets. Getting an early start, Kris cannot resist the temptation to drive through Ohio’s Amish country, smooth roads lead us past pretty farms, fresh produce stands, and countless buggies being pulled up and down hilly roads by graceful horses. We pass through quaint towns; Millersburg, Berlin, Charm and Walnut Creek before heading north to our planned destination, Akron. Known affectionately as “Rubber City”, Akron lies about 39 miles south of Lake Erie. Once home to tire giants Goodrich, General Tire, Firestone and Goodyear, today only Goodyear remains. Airships, blimps, dirigibles and Zepplins have been manufactured at the Goodyear airdock since WWII. The city itself covers rolling hills, the Little Cuyahoga River passes through town, the University of Akron campus is in the heart of the city.

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We take our initial ride through downtown to get a lay of the land, then take Market Street towards the Highland Square neighborhood. Immediately we spot interesting  buildings, a funky looking bar, a cluster of assorted businesses…wait is that vintage furniture in the window? After parking in a nearby lot, we walk down to West Hill Hardware, the sign says ‘established 1930’, I don’t doubt it for a minute. The floor is well-worn, aisles are stocked with new, salvaged and restored goods, some signage appears original such as the “Master” Hardwood Dowels display….sweet. Fluorescent lights hang from chains illuminating pegboards of random items, antique mirrors and an impressive collection of glass globes. Of course you can still buy paint by the gallon, nails by the pound and any other do-dad you’d expect to find at a hardware store, it would just be so much more fun to buy it here. Directly next door is the Land of Plenty, self-described as “beautiful things from every era”, I think that sums it up perfectly! The space is long and narrow, the large front window overlooks W Market Street; vintage furniture, lush plants, contemporary art and even rocks look perfectly at home. There is much to take in, jewelry, glassware, books, paintings and hand-crafted items, Kris spots an awesome leather-bound book of home plans from 1950, super cool, we pay at the counter and head over to Highland Square.

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Considered Akron’s hip, artsy neighborhood, Highland Square possesses mature trees, charming homes and vibrant, independent businesses popular with folks in their 20’s and 30’s. Today is “Square Fest” a celebration of music and art featuring local artists. The heat has been building all day, clouds are gathering and becoming dark, fingers crossed it just blows over. Canopy’s are set up on both sides of Market St. selling clothing, handmade jewelry, paintings, baked goods and of course, Akron-centric items; families with babies and dogs on leashes stop to talk to one another. Music appears to be the main focus of the event with several stages set up along the street, large crowds gather, some sing along. We listen to several acts as we wander through the festival area, the historic Highland Theatre has a cool marquis, we pop in and out of shops, pass a great old apartment building, ending up at Mary Coyle Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor. You know where this is going….Walter and Mary Coyle opened their ice cream parlor in 1937, the Coyles moved out to Phoenix in 1951, selling their Highland Square store. The business changed ownership several times, in 1984 Michael Trecaso purchased the store, he closed his Italian restaurant near U of A and combined the two, now serving Italian food and delicious homemade ice cream (16% butterfat). It is said to be one of the oldest restaurants still operating in Akron. The building looks just as it did back in the day; wood paneling covers the walls, tables and chairs wear bright orange, the neon sign still hangs on the wall behind the counter. We take one of the few remaining tables and order a hot fudge chocolate malt, it arrives in it’s signature metal mixing cup along with a glass and two straws–it is delicious! 

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Tonight we are staying at the O’Neil House Bed and Breakfast, built in 1923 for William O’Neil, the founder of General Tire, the 19 room Tudor mansion is nestled on 6 acres of beautifully landscaped grounds. Pulling in through the long circle drive, we find a space near the front door, brick and stone, the home seems massive. We are greeted by our host Gayle, I remember her from our stay nearly 20 years ago, I love that this is still her home. Leading us up the elegant staircase, turning left, then down a short hall, she opens the door to our room. We step inside, she hands us our keys, gives us a few instructions, then she is off. We are standing in our own private living room, a wood burning fireplace takes up most of the left wall, a couch, loveseat and chair flanked by tables make up the sitting area, a brass chandelier casts a warm glow over the room. To the right is a large wood table and chairs, large windows grace each side of the room, the hardwood floor creaks as we walk across. A short hall leads to a dressing area, to the left is the bathroom, it is magnificent!  The floor is black tile, walls are encased in a dark green and black marbled vitrolite, trimmed out in more vitrolite in pale green, a crystal chandelier hangs from the decorative vaulted ceiling, along with the usual amenities; sink, toilet and shower, there is an oversized bath tub and bidet, it’s gorgeous. Finally we make our way to the bedroom, directly across from the door is a 20 ft leaded glass bay window, tucked in the space is yet another sitting area, the room is swathed in luxurious draperies and linens, walls are angled, we are treated to yet another crystal chandelier, this is the Master Suite. I don’t want to leave…. oh wait, it’s dinner time.

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Family owned and operated since 1949 Luigi’s is a true Akron landmark. Famous for their pizza, salads and pastas the restaurant has grown from a modest dining room seating 60 to a total of three dining rooms with the capacity to seat 190. We park in a lot on Main St. in front of the restaurant, customers emerge from the front door carrying pizza boxes, inside there’s a buzz of activity. We sit in a wooden booth near the door, a short counter seats customers, a vintage Budweiser globe fixture hangs above. The wall beside us is covered in old photographs of people, sports teams and trophys. Our order is simple, pizza and salad, we get up and walk around while we wait for our food to arrive; walls are hand-painted murals, an eclectic collection of art pieces hang from the ceiling, giving the place a fun vibe. Back at the table our Italian tossed salad arrives covered in a heap of mozzarella cheese-a signature of Luigi’s, the salad is crisp and perfectly dressed. The pizza follows quickly, lifting a piece to the plate, mozzarella stretches the distance. The crust has a nice crunch and thickness, the red sauce is tasty, toppings are generous; since we can’t save any left-overs, we have no choice but to finish it off.  It has been a long day, time for some sleep.

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